Chinese officials are accused of conspiring to obstruct the Huawei investigation

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Two men suspected of being Chinese intelligence operatives have been charged with trying to obstruct a U.S. criminal investigation and prosecution of Chinese technology giant Huawei, according to court documents unsealed Monday.

Both men, Guochun He and Zheng Wang, are accused of trying to direct a US government official they believed to be an employee to provide confidential information about a Justice Department investigation, including witnesses, court evidence and possible new charges. One of the defendants paid about $61,000 for the information, the Ministry of Justice said.

The department has issued arrest warrants for the pair, but it’s unclear if they will ever be taken into custody.

The cases were announced at a news conference attended by heads of both the FBI and the Justice Department, a rare joint presence that reflected a concerted show of US force against Chinese intelligence efforts. Washington has long accused Beijing of meddling in US political affairs and stealing secrets and intellectual property.

Attorney General Merrick Garland also announced charges against four other Chinese nationals, accusing them of using the cover of an academic institute to try to acquire sensitive technology and equipment, and of interfering in protests that “would be embarrassing to the Chinese government.” And two more people were arrested and five more people were charged with harassing someone living in the U.S. to return to China as part of what Beijing is calling “Operation Fox Hunt”.

“Today’s cases clearly show that Chinese agents will not hesitate to violate the law and international norms in the process,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said that “China’s economic attacks and rights abuses are part of the same problem.”

“They are trying to silence anyone who opposes their thefts – companies, politicians, individuals – just as they are trying to silence anyone who opposes their other aggressions,” he said.

Wang and He are accused of communicating with someone who began working as a double agent for the US government, and that person’s contacts with the defendants were monitored by the FBI. At some point last year, prosecutors said, an unnamed person provided the defendants with a one-page document that appeared to be classified and contained information about an alleged plan to indict and arrest Huawei executives in the U.S.

But the document was actually prepared by the government for the prosecution’s purposes, which was disclosed on Monday, and the information in it was not accurate.

The company is not named in the indictment, although the references clearly indicate that it is Huawei, which was indicted in 2019 on bank fraud charges and again the following year on new charges of racketeering and conspiracy to steal trade secrets.

Spokesmen for Huawei and the Chinese embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Huawei previously called the federal investigation “political harassment, plain and simple.”

“An attack on Huawei will not help the US stay ahead of its competitors,” the company said in a statement statement published in 2020.

In a case related to Operation Foxhunt, prosecutors say Chinese agents tried to intimidate the unnamed man and his family into returning to China. Part of the plot, the US alleges, involved the man’s nephew traveling to the US as part of a tour group with threats that included: “The only way out is to go back and turn yourself in.”

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